It’s miraculous: a nanosatellite that everyone thought was lost has been found

Four years after its disappearance, a French nanosatellite has returned to life. PicSat is not dead. And there may be a chance to revive it.

There are detections that are like small miracles. What has just happened with the French nanosatellite PicSat is an incredible opportunity. While we thought we had lost this machine forever, four years ago, a signal from it was received on June 22, 2022. And already, some are saying that it could finally accomplish the mission for which it was destined.

This is LESIA Astro who announced the good news on Twitter. PicSat” just returned a signal after four and a half of radio silence “. Since that date, ” we thought we were lost, promised to disintegrate in the earth’s atmosphere in silence “. But the machine is very active and surely much more operational than we think. A diagnosis of his health is already planned.

This is unexpected news for LESIA — the Laboratory for Space Studies and Instrumentation in Astrophysics Solar Physics, Planetology, Stellar Physics, Plasma, High Angular Resolution. The message got applause of the National Center for Space Studies, which is in a way the French NASA.

What is even more remarkable is that individuals were always listening. ” PicSat is awake! Several radio amateurs received telemetry from the satellite “, writes the account Amsat-f June 22. ” Happy to see you ! 42 beacon frames [des sortes de signaux] demodulated during your last passage over France ”, notes for his part The Electrolab.

PicSat was to observe the activity of an exoplanet

The PicSat adventure dates back to 2018, at the very beginning of the year. Its mission was to observe the exoplanet Beta Pictoris b when it passes in front of its star, Beta Pictoris. This is called the transit method in astronomy. A body is positioned between the observer one and another space object, which then allows certain lessons to be learned.

This gas giant located 1.5 billion km from its star has insufficient luminosity to be observed directly. But while passing in front of it, the astronomers said to themselves that it was possible to estimate all at the same time its size, its density, its atmosphere and its composition. All this, observing the deviations and variations of light.

An artist’s impression of the exoplanet. // Source: ESO L. Calçada/N. riser

The problem is that the observation of the giant planet had come to a halt: the PicSat signal was lost two months after the start of the mission. Problem, the transit of Beta Pictoris b is not frequent up to a lifetime. The duration between two events of this type is measured in years. So there was no catch-up session with this 2018 slot.

So what ? Did the machine give signs of life only to vanish once and for all, as a final salvation? This may not be the scenario that will play out. The LESIA team says they are trying to re-establish an uplink to the nanosatellite. Immediate objective: to find out how PicSat is doing. Only then will decisions be made.

But of course, everyone has the idea in mind to be able to put PicSat back on track. And if it’s over for Beta Pictoris b, there are certainly other astronomical observations to be made. The universe is full of planets around stars. It remains to choose a good target. In the meantime, everything is gradually getting back on track. Even the website. Like in 2018.

All about this fascinating celestial object, the exoplanet

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